Food Poisoning Cases Up 44% In Last Two Years: Report

A new report paints a bleak picture about the current state of public health in the United States involving food borne illnesses. 

The United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) has labeled the food safety systems in the United States as “broken,” indicating that the outlook is getting worse, with more than 48 million people becoming ill from contaminated food every year.

A report released by the consumer group last week, Total Food Recall: Unsafe Foods Putting American Lives at Risk, compiles information and statistics from government agencies such as the FDA, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

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The group detailed food recalls and the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths associated with tainted food in the United States between January 2011 and September 2012, which represented a 44% increase in food poisoning reports when compared to two years prior.

There were 1,753 reported food borne illnesses linked to recalled food products within the 21 month timeframe, totaling an economic cost of more than $227 million. In the 2011-2012 reporting period, recalled and contaminated produce, meat and other recalled food products resulted in 37 deaths, 464 hospitalizations, nearly 1,500 incidences of Salmonella and 165 incidences of listeria.

One-third of the recalls in 2011 involved fresh produce, as well as a significant number in 2012.

While nearly two-thirds of the produce in the U.S. comes from foreign food suppliers, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined the FDA inspected only 153 of 189,000 registered foreign food facilities.

Many of the food borne illnesses may cause more severe problems than vomiting or diarrhea. Some have caused kidney dysfunction, chronic arthritis and can even cause birth defects to babies who are exposed in utero.

Dangerous Food Recalls

The U.S. PIRG report details many of food recalls within the past 21 months that have put American lives at risk against tainted and unsafe foods.

A cantaloupe recall in 2011 involving Salmonella reached 28 states and resulted in 147 illnesses and 142 hospitalizations. Cantaloupes were again recalled in 2012, due to Salmonella reaching 24 states, this time causing 3 deaths in Kentucky. A separate cantaloupe recall occurred in 2012, the deadliest food poisoning outbreak since 1924, which resulted in 33 deaths.

The 2012 recall involving raw tuna infected 425 people and reached 29 states. The recall involved more than 58,000 pounds of fish commonly used for sushi. The ground turkey recall in 2011 from salmonella caused one death and reached more than half the country in 34 states.

Other recalled products have included tainted papayas, mangoes and most recently the ongoing peanut butter recall involving salmonella. This outbreak affected 19 states and caused 35 illnesses, the majority in children under the age of ten years old.

The CDC estimates that each year one in six Americans become sick from recalled food products, 128,000 people are hospitalized and nearly 3,000 die due to food borne diseases.

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